NWO funds ten years of AI research with 25 million euros

Date of news: 19 January 2023

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NWO is putting 25 million euros into the ROBUST programme over the next ten years, giving a major boost to reliable artificial intelligence research in the Netherlands. This long-term programme will allow 170 PhD students to do research, giving AI talent in the Netherlands extra space.

ROBUST, an initiative by the Innovation Center for Artificial Intelligence (ICAI), is supported by the University of Amsterdam and 51 government, industry and knowledge-sector partners including Radboud University and Radboudumc. The programme aims to strengthen the Dutch artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem by boosting fundamental AI research. ROBUST focuses primarily on the development of trustworthy AI technology for the resolution of socially relevant issues, such as those in healthcare, logistics, media, food and energy. With the financial injection from NWO as well as co-financing from public and private partners, the total budget for ROBUST amounts to 87.3 million euros.

With the funds available from ROBUST, 17 new public-private partnership labs will be launched to become part of ICAI. Of these labs, seven are led by Radboud University and Radboudumc. Bram van Ginneken, professor of AI, is leading the research at Radboudumc: 'This project is unique because of its size and long duration of ten years. Thanks to our top research at the Radboudumc, linked to the power of companies, we can build an even stronger AI ecosystem. This is also an excellent opportunity for the four researchers who will be directing the labs with us.' In the coming year, ROBUST will recruit 85 new PhD candidates, followed by another 85 in five years’ time.

Marcel van Gerven, professor of AI and head of one of the labs at Radboud University, adds: 'The AI department of the Donders Institute will work together with ASM Pacific in the ASM ICAI lab, which will be located in the Maria Montessori building of the Faculty of Social Sciences. Our goal is to develop advanced machine learning techniques with applications in semiconductor industry. The focus of the lab is the development of energy-efficient and robust intelligent technology for sustainable process control.'

Human-centred AI for sustainable growth

Programme leader of ROBUST is Prof Maarten de Rijke (UvA). ‘The challenges for developing robust AI are enormous. We are focusing on three focal points: talent development, learning-by-doing and joint knowledge development between knowledge institutions, companies and societal parties. NWO is now making a very important and large contribution to this, which is necessary to take research to the next level,’ said the university professor of Artificial Intelligence and Information Retrieval.

‘What makes ROBUST unique is that not only will the new labs contribute to economic and technological objectives, they will also aid the United Nations’ sustainable development goals aimed at reducing poverty, inequality, injustice and climate change’, says De Rijke. ‘One important focus of all projects is to optimise reliable AI systems for qualities such as precision, soundness, reproducibility, resilience, transparency and security.’

Just like the other ICAI labs, the ROBUST labs will put the twin-win principle into practice: intensive public-private research partnerships in AI technology that lead to open publications and solutions that have been validated in practice. ‘We test our scientific findings within an industry context. Research and practice thus come together at an earlier stage, allowing for far better validation of the results. This way, research validation doesn’t end in the lab, but also in the outside world.’

ROBUST collaborates with regional civil-social partners throughout the Netherlands, and especially with startups and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The objective is not only to develop knowledge and innovations with ROBUST partners, but also to make them more widely available to other parties within the Dutch ecosystem. New findings and their policy implications will also be shared with national and European policymakers.